The track fell silent as a group of GM’s finest engineers took to the starting line. In between nervous looks, the crew checked over the car one last time before giving the signal to fire it up. The door of the Camaro slammed shut, the whine of the fuel pump the only noise now, when suddenly the starter began to crank over. To my right was the official Chevrolet Performance media team; to my left a group of hardcore GM engineers whom had over 5-years invested into this top-secret project. Suddenly, the gorgeous COPO Camaro roared to life, breathing fire out of its open exhaust, the rumble that the entire team was looking for. Now, the pace started to quicken. Each crewmember took to their spot, each tasked with watching a specific system on the Camaro. Through the water box she came, a quick blip of the throttle to wet the tires, a squeeze of the brakes to set it up, and plumes of tire smoke to heat the 9-inch wide hides. Out of the burnout box and into the beams, yellow yellow, onto the transbrake, and 1.40-seconds later, the COPO Camaro was on its way down track. In just 9.69-seconds it was all over. Five grueling years worth of blood, sweat, internal politics, tears, heartache, joy, and plain old hard work culminating in a 140-mph blast down thirteen hundred and twenty feet worth of asphalt. What we had just witnessed wasn’t only a track pass; it was history in the making.
To understand the COPO Camaro’s importance, one must first understand where this concept came from and to do that, we’ve got to turn back the clocks to 1968, the second year of the Camaro, which just like today was an all-new hot selling muscle car that enthusiasts loved. Drag racing was huge and class racing was the only way prove who was the king of the muscle cars. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) the rules of yesteryear mandated that “stock” cars had to be available to the public, in units of 50 or more, direct from the factory. Ford produced the Mustang with a 428 Cobra Jet engine, Chrysler built Hemi powered ‘Cudas and Darts and even AMX threw a big cube engine in to the mix. General Motors however, had nothing, which meant GM racers and fans alike were out of luck as far as class racing was concerned.
Well, almost out of luck. You see, in 1968 there existed an interesting bit of paperwork, known as the Central Office Production Order (COPO), which was usually reserved for fleet services that allowed GM plants to produce special run vehicles without major corporate interference. While this process was normally reserved for police cars, fleet trucks or other special runs and executed mainly for mundane purposes, it was also known to a man named Fred Gibb, who was a diehard GM drag racer, dealer, and well connected friend of certain key players within General Motors upper management. With a little convincing and back office scheming, Fred was able to create COPO 9560, which was a Central Office Production Order run that contained a special order for 50 brand new ZL1 Camaros that were to be outfitted with the 430-hp aluminum ZL1 engine, borrowed from the Corvette, along with a special 4.10:1 equipped rear end and either a TH400 or Muncie 4-speed transmission. Because they were going to semi-officially build 50 of these at the factory, a new class racer was born and the COPO 9560 Camaro was instantly a crowd and racer favorite at the drag strip. In AHRA trim, Fred Gibb and partner Dick Harrell went out and ran hard, clocking a best time of 10.29 at 132mph. The COPO Camaro was real, fast, and awesome, which meant GM was back in the game and gunning for the top spot at every race it unofficially entered. Eventually other dealers heard of this program and out of the same racing spirit that built the COPO 9560 came the COPO 9561 production order, which offered a smaller engine (among other things) at a much more affordable price. While much cheaper and more popular, it was the COPO 9560 ZL1 that held the top spot, with an eventual 69 units being built before the program was put on indefinite hold.
43-years later, we’re here, looking at a spec sheet for PN 20129562 (see what they did there?), which is billed as a factory built COPO Camaro race car built “to survive the rigors of the top classes in NHRA Stock Eliminator.” Using the same Central Office Production Order technique as the original cars, the 2012 COPO Camaro holds true to all of the same ideology as those monsters, although we’re telling you now that this is much more car, and much more Camaro, than the COPOs of yesteryear. A quick look at the specs tells it all: a 2.9-liter supercharged 327 cubic-inch LSX or a naturally aspirated 7.0-liter race engine (there is also a 4.0-liter supercharged 327 for A/SS class racing in the works), a custom designed solid axle rear suspension built around a Strange Engineering S-9 rear end stuffed with 4.10:1 rear gears, and the choice of either a Powerglide 2-speed automatic, a “to be determined” 3-speed or a 5-speed manual transmission. For the money, you get a full-on race ready fuel system from Aeromotive, a complete interior with an NHRA-certified chrome-moly roll cage and lightweight suspension components matched with race specific wheels, tires and brakes. A line-lock comes as standard equipment, as does the custom high-rise cowl induction hood and the NHRA mandated engine cutoff switch.
This is a race car, through and through, and it is being built by Chevrolet Performance specifically to compete in NHRA Stock Eliminator competition. That means you don’t get a VIN, you can’t drive it on the street, and you have to sign a contract with General Motors that states as much. Unlike those early COPO Camaros this isn’t some sort of back door deal, it’s the real thing and it’s taken 5-years worth of hard work and dedication to get it to this point. Now, here’s the part you probably haven’t heard yet… this isn’t a concept anymore. This is a real COPO Camaro and by the time you read this, it should be entering production. We’ve been up close and personal with the machine, seen it run and watched the team at GM and Chevrolet Performance tweak it to perfection. Word on the street (our street that is) is that customers will be racing these Camaros by the summer of 2012 and, per NHRA rules, all of the awesome parts (solid axle conversion, race engines, etc.) will have to be available from Chevrolet Performance, which means you can get in on the action without having to be one of the lucky 69 who got in early enough to be a part of this limited edition first run. However, even if you’re never going to own one of these Camaros, or even a piece of one, isn’t it good to know that all-out performance is still alive and well within the halls of General Motors? It simply doesn’t get any better than this, a factory built Camaro race car capable of going out and engaging in head to head battle with the Ford and Mopar racers. Of course, we wish them the best of luck, since it seems like all other racers will simply be racing for second place once king COPO hits the track…